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Garcetti says L.A. is lazy about recruiting international investment

March 13, 2013 |  6:50 pm

Eric Garcetti

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that city leaders have not done enough to promote international investment here or to recruit businesses from other nations, adding that if he is elected, he would pursue those opportunities more aggressively in Latin America and Asia.

“We’ve had successful trips of mayors abroad,” Garcetti told members of the L.A. Metropolitan Hispanic Chambers of Commerce at a luncheon in Silver Lake. But “it’s like a balloon that we blow air into, as soon as we leave, it deflates. I want to have much more of a permanent presence, especially with our large trading partners in the capitals.”

He proposed opening city offices in such key destinations as Seoul to encourage trade, tourism and investment, noting that even the small state of Arkansas has an office in Shanghai.

Garcetti, a Rhodes Scholar who taught at Occidental College and USC, said the city's next mayor should be as culturally fluent as possible.

Making a subtle contrast to rival Wendy Greuel, who has spent much of her career in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., Garcetti noted that he would bring “the experience of having lived abroad, having traveled abroad and having taught international relations” to the role of mayor.

“I understand that our success is really tied to the international economy,” he said.

“Everybody wants to be in L.A.," Garcetti said. “But we assume the weather, and the people and the geography will sell it automatically. It won’t. We need a mayor who is out there hustling, to get business to come, to get investment to come.

“There’s a market waiting to be touched,” Garcetti continued, arguing that as the grandson of immigrants, he could be an effective liaison between the city’s mainstream economy and lower-income, immigrant-heavy areas “where the potential for growth is just as high.”

“We have to get a mayor that can bridge that gap,” he said.

Garcetti moved fluently between English and Spanish as he outlined his plans to make city government more welcoming to new businesses, and particularly immigrant-run firms.

Among his top priorities as mayor, Garcetti said, would be streamlining permitting processes -- shortening the length of time it takes new businesses to get off the ground -- and eliminating the city’s gross receipts tax, an expensive proposition that he and Greuel support. He said he would also modernize the city system, moving to an all-electronic process for submitting blueprints and project plans, for example.

“Our city employees, who are good employees, just have the wrong culture. They are told slow things down, put a different inspector on it every single time,” Garcetti said, adding that he would try to adjust that thinking, and would hire general managers who demonstrate and seek “cultural literacy” in their staffs.

Garcetti also proposed an annual Latino-themed “ideas and culture festival,” on the scale of Austin, Texas’ South by Southwest.

The festival would publicize Los Angeles’ diversity and bring in Latin American firms in an effort to brand the city "as a place that all these companies need to be and need to do business."

"I just think we’ve been lazy -- because we have so many great things other cities don’t, we assume people will come anyway,” he said. 

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-- Maeve Reston

Twitter: @maevereston

Photo: Eric Garcetti speaks to supporters the night of the primary election. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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